Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Dog for Men to Live Up To

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Dog for Men to Live Up To

Article excerpt

Byline: MELANIE McGRATH

RIN TIN TIN: THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND by Susan Orlean (Atlantic, [pounds sterling]16.99) TWO of the biggest movie stars of early 2012 are likely to be left out of the toothy parade of selfcongratulation that is the movie awards season. The first, Finder, plays equine hero Joey in Stephen Spielberg's film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's acclaimed stage show War Horse. The second is Uggie, a Jack Russell, whose performance in hotly tipped Oscar contender The Artist has won so many hearts that the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had gently to remind its members that critters are currently ineligible for acting gongs. His trainer has been quoted as saying that Uggie "deserves an Oscar more than anyone I know", though that may say more about the company the man keeps.

It was not ever thus. In 1929, the very first Oscar for Best Actor went to a German Shepherd. His name was Rin Tin Tin, and though he was subsequently disqualified -- a decision which still rankles with Susan Orlean, the author of this glorious biography of the world's original canine superstar -- Rinty, as he was more usually known, racked up performances in 27 films from 1922 to 1931, becoming a household name and an inspiration to millions around the world for more than half a century.

The dog-cum-global phenomenon started life as an abandoned puppy on a First World War battlefield. Rescued by an American soldier, Lee Duncan, on his way back from fighting, Rin Tin Tin (named after a toy doll beloved of French children) immediately repaid his saviour with a loyal devotion extraordinary even for a dog. Smuggling his new animal companion across the pond with him, Duncan found himself in California just as the movie business was taking off. The man had no talent for acting, directing or producing. What he did have, though, was Rin Tin Tin.

Audiences fell in love with the dog, or, rather, they cleaved to what Rinty symbolised: a kind of noble independence and unstinting sense of purpose which in turn expressed all that was best in America, or, rather, in what America symbolised. …

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